Inherently poignant though not exceptionally inspirational, CBS’ “Ice Bound” is a rare offering from Miramax’s quiet TV arm and should do just fine thanks to the star power of Susan Sarandon and its Sunday night slot. Dr. Jerri Nielsen became news in 1999 after undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer while living at the South Pole, and while the story of how someone so isolated could endure treatment is fascinating on its own, the obvious hardships of being situated in the middle of nowhere seem more like a surmountable hindrance rather than the overwhelming setback it must have been.
Nielsen, then 46, was at the Amundsen-Scott research station when she noticed that a lump was getting bigger. Not as easy as flying back — due to weather and lack of light, planes could only come and go twice a year — she communicated with doctors via email and had to rely on an Internet hookup and fellow Polies (not trained as M.D.s) for help. She also depended on rescue supply drops that delivered medicine and appropriate equipment that allowed her to follow a course of action until conditions eased up and she could seek topline care.
Telepic’s overall drama comes mainly from Nielsen’s personality shift; at first cold and standoffish, she eventually endears herself to the pack, making the narrative slightly manipulative. Group includes John Penny (Aidan Devine), a hunk who falls for Nielsen, and Claire Furinsky (Cynthia Mace), a colleague who hides some serious fears since this could have happened to her. They all bond, but there’s never any indication as to what happened to the relationships after her trip home. (A new doctor replaced her in Antarctica, and Nielsen eventually had a mastectomy.)
Sarandon is sturdy and sympathetic as a victim of circumstance and bad timing, but her behavioral dichotomy is a distraction; before her diagnosis, she’s constantly whining and complaining about a lack of privacy and the difficult environment — as if she received no preparation for what was possibly the most unique and difficult experience of her life. Most moving moment comes when she has to self-administer a biopsy with the help of three men who have no idea what they’re doing and don’t know if they can go through with it.
Director Roger Spottiswoode does his best to create a no man’s land, using a Toronto tundra to fill in for the most southern point on Earth. Peter Pruce and Maria Nation’s teleplay is based on the book that Nielsen co-wrote with Maryanne Vollers.